A decent debut from the Spanish singer, but one unlikely to linger in the memory.
Mike Diver 2012-01-20
Freshly signed to Decca, Juan Zelada is a London-based (and inspired – the English capital’s inhabitants have "a mystique" about them, according to the man’s website bio) Spanish singer-songwriter whose debut LP-preceding press says much about the audience he’s hoping to court. Comparisons to Paolo Nutini and Jack Johnson paint a picture of an artist with earnest lyrical intentions but little in the way of compositional inspiration, despite evidence enough of developed hooks and commendably catchy choruses. (See also: Jameses Blunt and Morrison; the terrifyingly popular Bruno Mars; Ed Sheeran once you smooth out what edginess he’s supposed to possess.)
And so it proves: perfectly pleasant in a background fare capacity, High Ceilings & Collarbones is music for malls, for drive-time and doing the vacuuming. Its variety is restricted to half-remembered hit tunes from radio of the last 25 years, diversions into a gentle approximation of the blues about as far as Zelada stretches away from tried-and-tested templates. Opener The Blues Remain is a slow-burner with neat piano motifs and brass punctuation; as tone-setters go it’s not exactly on the money, but nevertheless is an appealing curtain-up on a voice that rarely settles, at times coarse – coming surprisingly close to Stereophonics’ Kelly Jones – and others silky smooth. Toe-tappers present themselves if the listener is willing to focus for a few minutes: there’s a little dose of drama on the busy Elsewhere, Breakfast at Spitalfields is bright and breezy, and album (proper) closer I Can’t Love is genuinely lovely, reminiscent of Pink Floyd in their more restrained, radio-friendly moments, the guitar evoking echoes of David Gilmour’s trademark licks.
A press release one-liner of "Ben Folds meets the Dave Matthews Band" is misleading: Zelada hasn’t the razor-sharp lyrical smarts of Folds, neither the potential, on the exclusive basis of this set, to reach Dave Matthews Band levels of commercial success (he’s probably not going to buy a yacht in this tax year). Impressive in not really impressing beyond its duration, High Ceilings… is an album for the moment, not the memories; a decent step on the first rung of a career ladder that can rise to incredible heights. But it’s unlikely to be returned to once the world’s beige-pop/New Boring heavyweights unveil their own 2012 collections.